Lunch at the Waterside Inn - Celebrated Thames-side Dining in Bray

••• Champagne beside the river at the Waterside Inn. © Ferne Arfin
  • 01 of 08

    A Champagne Welcome at the Waterside Inn

    Champagne at the Waterside Inn
    ••• We chose a glass of the house champagne, bottled with a Michel Roux label by Laurent Perrier, the server assured us. © Ferne Arfin

    The Waterside Inn, by the Thames in Bray, has held onto three Michelin stars for 40 years. Opened by the Roux brothers, Michel and Albert, in the 1970s, Michel's son Alain Roux is now in chef patron.

    A meal at the Waterside Inn is a genuine luxury treat. This is very much a special occasion, celebration restaurant,the sort of place many people would be lucky to visit once, let alone a handful of times in their lives. I'd wanted to dine here for decades. Would the experience warrant that level of anticipation?

    What Makes a Memorable Meal?

    I've eaten too many restaurant meals to buy into lists of "bests". At this level, one expects competence, verging on perfection from the kitchen. That has to be a given. So what else contributes to making a dining out experience truly memorable? Here's my personal list of Musts:

    • Ambiance - A comfortable,beautiful room, surrounded by the soft buzz of happy conversation, preferably with a gorgeous view.
    • Service - Knowledgeable and...MORE attentive without being overwhelming. Being constantly interrupted by over-eager staff is just as bad as being ignored.
    • Surprise - At a special restaurant, I want to taste at least one thing I've never tasted before, be delighted by one flavor combination I had not thought of.

    I'm happy to report that, from the moment we were ushered to the terrace and offered a glass of the house champagne as an aperitif to our final happy (and full) sigh, the Waterside Inn scored well on all counts.

    Any Downside?

    • Inclusion of a few more hard cheeses and English cheeses on the cheese board would be nice.
    • Vegetarians and teetotallers may have difficulty with the limited choice of meat free dishes and the inclusion of alcohol in most of the desserts.
    • And of course, there is no escaping the fact that a meal here is very expensive - though the set menus of two or three courses for lunch offer good value.

    Waterside Inn Essentials

    • Address: The Waterside Inn, Ferry Road, Bray, Berkshire SL6 2AT
    • Telephone: +44 (0)1628 620 691
    • Fax: +44 (0)1628 784 710
    • Website
    • Reservations? Essential and well in advance
    • Price range: Expensive - very special occasion prices for most people.

    Money saving Tip for The Waterside Inn:

    Go for lunch and choose the set lunch menus. In 2010 the price was £41.40 for two courses and £56.50 for three. Wine by the glass cost about £9. The set lunch menu changes daily and includes at least two choices for each course, coffee and sweets (the freshly made nougat is gorgeous), service and tax.

    As is common in the travel industry, the writer was provided with complimentary services for the purpose of reviewing. While it has not influenced this review, About.com believes in full disclosure of all potential conflicts of interest. For more information, see our ethics policy.

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  • 02 of 08

    Hors d'Oeuvres on the Terrace

    Hors d'oeuvres
    ••• Hors d'oeuvres on the Terrace at the Waterside Inn. ©Ferne Arfin

    Before lunch in good weather guests relax on the terrace with a drink and nibbles. We arrived on a warm, sunny day in June, perfect for a long, lazy meal.

    The Waterside Inn sits beside a narrow, tree-shaded stretch of the River Thames in the pretty, Michelin-starry village of Bray. A rambling half timbered building, with an assortment of half timbered cottages annexed on, this famous restaurant is just a few miles from Windsor Castle.

    That's probably why the Queen is rumored to pop over to entertain guests from time to time. Diego, the inn's delightfully entertaining general manager explained that in the past, the more sumptuous of the two private dining rooms (which has a separate entrance) was for the Queen's use alone as it was not licenced for the public. Now, the room is not only licenced, it is licenced for civil weddings.

    Tasty Tidbits in the Sunshine

    A small tray of hors d'oeuvres was produced and explained. We especially liked the fresh, flaky cheese straws and a...MORE cocktail of watermelon blitzed with a little gin and sprinked with the tiniest dice of celery. That combination was one of the surprises I always hope for and it's one I will try to duplicate at home.

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  • 03 of 08

    Lobster for Starters

    Waterside Inn Lobster for starters
    ••• As a first course, Lobster medallions in a white port and ginger sauce. © Ferne Arfin

    Our starters of lobster, crab and prawn were beautiful to look at and each included subtle surprises of taste and texture.

    The dish of pan fried lobster medallions with white port sauce and a ginger flavored julienne of vegetables (Tronçonnettes de homard poêlées minute au Porto blanc) is one of Michel Roux's recipes. The lobster, in its puddle of dark, glossy sauce, had a light, gingery warmth. Although the lobster was already jointed, the server offered and then smoothly removed all the shells.

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  • 04 of 08

    Crab and Prawn With Unroasted Almonds

    ••• The surprise of unroasted almonds with the Devon crab and prawns. © Ferne Arfin

    I tried Alain Roux's creation of flaked Devon crab with melon and the unfamiliar crunchiness of fresh, unroasted almonds, topped with marinated, grilled prawns (Émietté de tourteau du Devon aux effluves de melon, amandes fraîches et crevettes roses marinées). I didn't even know you could eat unroasted almonds but I will be looking for that light, fresh taste in the future.

     

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  • 05 of 08

    Artful Main Courses

    ••• The roulade of roast lamb (right) is picture pretty and was not just fork tender. It was spoon tender. © Ferne Arfin

    My dining companion described her dish of braised John Dory with prawns and a lovage flavored emulsion(left) as "summer on a plate."

    I'd worried that my choice of rolled loin of lamb, stuffed with aubergine confit and grilled pine nuts might be too heavy for a summer lunch. I needn't have. The lamb was cooked to a perfect pink and so tender I could have eaten it with a spoon. It came with a delicate little "gateau" of moussaka and a saffron jus. The menu changes seasonally, but favorite dishes reappear with regularity. The set menus for lunch change every day.

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  • 06 of 08

    The Cheese Course

    Selection of cheeses
    ••• Waterside Inn's selection of perfectly ripe cheeses. © Ferne Arfin

    Cheeses served at the Waterside Inn were presented at the perfect degree of temperature and ripeness and well described by our knowledgeable server.

    Most of the cheeses the day we visited were French and most were soft or semi-soft. They were all delicious but a few more hard cheeses would have been a good addition to the board. And though the restaurant prides itself on the use of local ingredients - English raspberries, Angus beef - important British cheeses were notably absent - Stilton and Stinking Bishop the only representatives of a national range that now includes hundreds of cheeses.

    A selection of dried fruit, biscuits and crackers were served with the cheese.

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  • 07 of 08

    A Seasonal Raspberry Soufflé

    ••• Raspberry soufflé is lighter than air. © Ferne Arfin

    Raspberry soufflé is only served at the Waterside Inn when fresh English raspberries are available.

    When my server cut into my raspberry soufflé with a spoon to drip in some warm raspberry coulis, I had my doubts. A few months earlier, at another Michelin starred restaurant in France, the waiter had insisted, despite my protests, in cutting into a pistachio soufflé to add a dollop of freshly made pistachio ice cream. The resulting sludge of melted ice cream soup and flattened soufflé did no service to the restaurant or to that chef's special dessert.

    But the raspberry soufflé at the Waterside Inn was very different. It is unbelievably light - a sort of cloud of sugar and fruitiness that vanishes on the tongue. The warm coulis adds just the right note of fresh tartness to balance the spun sugar quality of the dish. Raspberry soufflé, one of the Waterside Inn's specialities, only appears on the menu in summer when fresh local berries are available. If you see it, order at the start...MORE of your meal because it takes at least 20 minutes to make.

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  • 08 of 08

    Blueberry Mousse and Pistachio Crème Brûlée Star in Dessert Selection

    ••• Péché gourmand selon "Alain" et "Michel" is a presentation of six (seven on the day) dessert specialities of chef Alain Roux and his father Michel Roux.The highlights were the blueberry mousse (blue arrow) and the pistachio crème brûlée (green arrow). © Ferne Arfin

    A dessert sampler of Alain and Michel Roux's specialities is a highlight - especially the pistachio crème brûlée and the sablé with blueberry mousse.

    Try A Waterside Inn Recipe for Blueberry Mousse*

    This recipe is adapted from a version, a speciality of Waterside Inn founder Michel Roux, that is served between sweet crisp almond pastry biscuits, called sablés. You can find a recipe for the pastry as well as the Italian meringue called for in this recipe in Roux's book,Pastry: Savoury and Sweet. Instructions on how to make Italian meringue can also be found in many popular cookbooks.

    Ingredients

    • crème de myrtilles (blueberry liqueur, optional)
    • 60g (1/4 cup plus 1 tbsp) castor (extra fine) sugar
    • 120g (4 1/4 oz) Italian meringue
    • 400g (14 oz) fresh or frozen blueberry purée
    • 150g (5 1/4 oz)double cream (in the US use the heaviest whipping cream you can find), softly whipped
    • juice of 1/2 lemon
    • 40 fresh blueberries
    • 8g leaf gelatine (equivalent to a USA standard, 1/4 oz packet of granulated...MORE gelatine)
    • 8 mint sprigs

    Method

    1. Make the blueberry coulis; Put 50ml (scant 1/4 cup) of water and the sugar in a small pan over low heat. Dissolve, then bring to the boil to make a syrup. Set aside to cool, then mix with 100g (1/4 cup plus 3 tbs) of the blueberry puree, add lemon juice and refrigerate.
    2. Soak the gelatine in cold water to cover (if using powdered gelatine, skip this step and add the gelatine to the hot liquids, off the heat)
    3. Heat 50g (1 3/4oz) of the blueberry purée. As it begins to bubble, remove from heat, squeeze the gelatine (if using leaves) to remove excess water, then stir into hot purée until dissolved.
    4. Stir in the remaining blueberry puree with a whisk. Add the liqueur and gently fold in the meringue with a whisk.
    5. Fold in the whipped cream with a flexible spatula
    6. Cover a baking sheet with plastic wrap and arrange 8 pastry rings, 8cm in diameter and 4cm deep, on it.
    7. Fill with mixture and chill for three hours
    8. To serve, unmold and arrange on a pool of blueberry coulis. Decorate with fresh blueberries and mint sprigs.

    Another Dessert We Loved

    Scenting a crème brûlée with the delicate but unmistakable taste of pistachios was another sure fire winner that we'd never tasted before. As it happens, a version of this dessert is available on the BBC's online magazine, Good Food. Check out BBC Good Food recipe for Pistachio Crème Brûlée .

    *Michel Roux's recipe for blueberry mousse first appeared in his book "Pastry: Savoury and Sweet"  and is reproduced here with permission.